Vermont Government Needs Transparency, Supporters Of Ethics Commission Say

Aug 21, 2015

Sponsors of legislation that would create an Ethics Commission in Vermont say they're optimistic that their proposal will become law during the 2016 session.

Vermont is a national leader on many issues, but transparency of state government isn't one of them. The Center for Public Integrity gave Vermont a D+ grade because Vermont is one of just three states in the country that does not have an ethics commission or a financial disclosure policy for all elected officials.

Supporters of a commission say it's critical to include a comprehensive conflict of interest provision for all lawmakers and state officials.

Secretary of State Jim Condos says an independent ethics panel is needed to investigate alleged violations of both the state's campaign finance laws and new conflict of interest policies. He also wants the commission to be a place where state officials can seek guidance when they have questions on an issue of transparency.

"Even little things that might go wrong can create havoc in the long run... Vermonters do deserve good government and the only way to get good government is to have an open and transparent government," says Condos.

Stowe Rep. Heidi Scheuermann has been a sponsor of an ethics commission bill for several years. She says the panel is needed, in part, to restore public faith in the state's political system.

"Perception is reality. There's a lot of distrust right now in the general public in government and in politicians.," says Sheuermann.

"If we can do something at the state level to instill more confidence in our elected officials and government in general I think that would be a good thing."

"If we can do something at the state level to instill more confidence in our elected officials and government in general I think that would be a good thing." - Stowe Rep. Heidi Scheuermann

Washington County senator Anthony Pollina wants any conflict of interest policy to include a waiting period of at least a year before a lawmaker or state official could be employed by a business or nonprofit group that lobbies the Legislature.

"It's what we call the revolving door and we're all familiar with it. I think there are a lot of people who get aggravated when they see that revolving door spinning too much," Pollina says.

"I think we need to regulate it at some level and then have the Ethics Commission make sure that it's abided by."

Under Pollina's draft bill, the chief justice of the Vermont Supreme Court would be the chairman of the new Ethics Commission. Pollina says the panel will also need a full time staff of at least three people to investigate complaints.